Friday, October 28, 2011

More North Carolina- the Folk Art Center and the Blue Ridge Parkway

Kris rented a car, which meant that we weren't relying only on the kindness of strangers (who turned into excellent friends) and taxis (which are expensive) and motel shuttles (which were, in the case of our motel, non-existent). Kris also brought her own Garmin, which meant that almost all of the time, we knew where we were going, or at least where we were supposed to turn (except for the evening when the battery died about halfway home, so we had to rely on our own memories as to which exits to take to get back to Hendersonville. It was scary, lemee tellya). That vaguely-digital sounding voice was a great comfort as she repeated *recalculating* over and over (Asheville is confusing, y'all).

But the car and the Garmin, and Kris's bravery in driving unfamiliar roads, meant that we weren't tied to a short leash this time around. We spent one long day at Biltmore (which I love love love) and ate supper at Grove Park Inn (more about which in the Food Post, coming up tomorrow), so on Tuesday, we ventured forth.

 My friend Ann has been trying to get me to visit the Folk Art Center in Asheville since my first trip to North Carolina. I finally did it this time around, and I am so glad I did. The Folk Art Center is run by the Southern Highland Craft Guild. The Folk Art Center is just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, nestled in among the trees and hills. The Gift Shop is full, and I do mean full, of amazing pieces made by local Guild Members. Wood, glass, leather, paper, fabric, glass... weaving, quilting, carving, glass blowing, basketry... jewelry, pottery, ornaments, paintings, prints, clothing... all beautifully made, and all for sale. Kris and I browsed for at least an hour, bemoaning our lack of suitcase room (and funds- these were pieces of art, and priced accordingly). My biggest surprise was that there wasn't a single spindle, or any handspun yarn for sale. Otherwise, all of the handcrafts were amply and beautifully represented.

The upstairs of the center held an amazing quilt display. I am barely an amateur quilter, but I know beauty and technique when I see it. And I saw a lot of it.
 The grounds around the center are lovely too. Kris, who lives in the Pacific Northwest still (in our home town) first noticed the lack of evergreen trees. Even here, in nearly treeless South Dakota, easily 50% of our trees are evergreen. In North Carolina, I would suspect that 99% of the trees were deciduous. We did see this lovely evergreen at the Center- I have no idea what it is, but the ethereal and delicate needles were beautiful.
 I couldn't resist another photo.
 Though the leaves were at least a week past peak, there was still a lot of glorious color.

 So Beautiful.
 Since we were already on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a highway that winds its way along 469 miles of mountain roads in the southern Appalachians in North Carolina and Virginia, we decided to continue on for a bit, just to looky-loo.
 The trees that still held their leaves were amazing. The weather was perfect as well, cloudless skies and 70 degrees. Many motorcyclists agreed with us. The highway hummed with them.
 The visitor center had a wonderful display on the Parkway history. That's where we picked up the brochure. Also the book of postcards.
We decided to head to Craggy Gardens, some 28 miles from the visitor center.  The road was two-lane, narrow and winding, with a sensible 40mph speed limit. For most of the distance, the highway threaded among the trees. Take a peek at the cover of the postcard book- that's exactly what we saw. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and every corner, every bend brought a new and amazing scene to view. Unfortunately, those portions also had no places to pull over for photography, so I have to rely on the cover of the postcard book to show you (for some reason, there is no matching postcard of that scene IN the book).
 However, there were several *viewpoints*, where we were able to pull over and stand overlooking the valleys below. The hillsides were absolutely covered with yellow and orange. And red.
 It was incredibly beautiful.
 We climbed steadily and slowly- the 28 mile drive took over an hour, though we did stop frequently. With scenes like this, we had no choice.
 Though the Appalachians are old and low mountains (I grew up in the shadow of the Cascades, so I know from mountains), the grade was still fairly steep. We were over 5,000 feet up when we finally got to Craggy Gardens...
 ...which weren't actual gardens at all. The place was named for the many wild flowers that grow there. I believe the above tree is a Mountain Ash (the berries look like our Mountain Ashes).

Since it was fall, none of the wildflowers were blooming, though we could see the many wild rhododendron plants, which surprised us both. Rhodies thrive in the temperate and very moist soil of Northwest Washington. We did not expect to see them at this altitude, where snow is not at all uncommon.
 The views, as with all of the other views, were spectacular. We were above the general tree line at Craggy Gardens. The only vegetation was scrub and brushes and low trees...
 ...and rhododendrons.
 More beauty.(the photo above, not the one below)

I'm so glad we had the time to explore a bit. Maybe next time, we'll venture even further.

Tomorrow: food, glorious food

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